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Can a cheater ever change?

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  September 10, 2010 02:51 PM

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Q: Hi Meredith,

I am 61 and have been engaged for the past four years. I have had a relationship with my fiancé, who is about my age, for 10 years. We are both divorced.

My fiancé's 16-year marriage was ruined by his infidelities. He cheated with at least four to five other women. He was up front about this from the beginning. I met him when he had been separated for six months. He has always had many platonic female friends, some for over 20 years, and my friends find him charming and handsome.

Months ago, I was informed by another woman that he has been in a physical and emotional relationship with her while I have been with him. The woman is someone he has always been close with. Their first affair lasted on and off for years and then continued with breaks up until last year. I am very hurt but feel that he is committed to our relationship. I have asked that he cease connections with all his women friends and seek counseling.

The longer I stew over his history the more I realize he has treated a lot of women poorly in the past. At this point he has been deceitful and betrayed every woman he's ever been with, including myself. I have only this one mark against him but the ghosts are lurking in my mind. I have read about narcissism and pathological personalities and I am worried he may be a man that has long periods between his affairs or that a real personality disorder exists for him.

We live with each other on weekends and see each other every night but he sleeps in his condo during the week due to his job requirements. He has stated that he is unhappy with this separation during the week but abides by my wishes that I remain in my home in the country. I have no desire to live in the city.

I want a future I can feel secure about, but I can't easily forget the past. Should I continue to ask him not to have contact with his female friends and believe the one was a red herring? Should I remain in a status quo situation forever or just press on for marriage. He wants to marry me and tells me he will never be unfaithful again. Is there hope for a man with such a history? He has always claimed that his unfaithfulness was due to no woman meeting his emotional needs. Something doesn't sound "kosher" to me. I would appreciate other women's feedback and can't turn to my friends or family because of my professional position.

– Can he be fixed?, Western Mass.

A: CHBF, get thee to therapy. With him. As soon as possible.

"I have only this one mark against him." Um, that one mark is a long-term affair with one of his close female friends. That's one big, fat mark. And it's not like he was the one who came clean. You heard from the other woman.

From what you're telling us, your fiancé blames his affairs on his partners. It's their fault for not giving him enough attention. And here you are telling us that you don't give him attention on weekdays, when he lives in the city. Recipe for disaster.

You need to ask him all of your very fair questions in front of a third party who can help you navigate what happens next. For whatever reason, it's difficult to avoid the truth with a professional in the room. It's also difficult to forgive the unforgivable when someone with a license is watching. Gross proclamations of narcissism sound even sillier with an audience.

Yes, you're always going to wonder if he's cheating. That's just the way it is. He cheated on others. He cheated on you. You either live with that anxiety and trust that he's working to ignore his desires, or you walk. The therapy should help with that decision. It's not easy to figure out on your own after 10 years.

And if he refuses to see a professional, well, there's your answer. At this point he should be doing everything possible to convince you that he's for real, including making your country abode his home base. If he has no interest in working this out in therapy, he isn't taking you/this problem seriously.

Readers? Can chronic cheaters change? Will therapy do any good? After 10 years, what is worth saving? Is it relevant that they've been engaged for four years but didn't get married? Discuss -- and have a nice weekend (and New Year, for those who celebrate).


– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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